75. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to hold referendums in 2019. [4260/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Government has approved the holding of a referendum to amend the constitutional provisions on divorce. The referendum will be held alongside the votes for the European and local elections in late May 2019.
I believe that it is important to have broad consensus in the Oireachtas for the proposal that will be put to the people. In that regard, I have recently engaged in consultations with parties and political groupings on the scope of the constitutional amendment that might be proposed.
The Government has agreed that the proposal on divorce to be put to the people in the May referendum will, subject to the passage of the necessary Constitution Amendment Bill by the Dáil and Seanad, contain two elements.
The first proposal is an amendment to Article 41.3.2º of the Constitution to remove the minimum living apart period for spouses applying for a divorce. It is the Government’s intention to deal with the living apart period by way of ordinary legislation. If the referendum is passed, the Government will bring forward a Bill to amend section 5(1)(a) of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996 to reduce the minimum living apart period specified in that Act from four years during the previous five years to two years during the previous three years.
If the referendum is passed, the existing provisions in Article 41.3.2º of the Constitution which require that there be no prospect of reconciliation and that proper provision exists or will be made for spouses and children will continue in force in the Constitution. It will also remain the case that only a court can grant a divorce.
The second proposal is an amendment to replace the provision on recognition of foreign divorces in Article 41.3.3º of the Constitution. The people will be asked to approve new text to replace Article 41.3.3º with a modern, readily-understandable provision which clearly provides that the Oireachtas may legislate for the recognition of divorces obtained outside the State.
The Government intends to bring forward its proposals for amendments to Articles 41.3.2º and 41.3.3º of the Constitution by way of amendments to the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Divorce) Bill 2016 (PMB), which is currently awaiting Report Stage in the Dáil.
With regard to the proposed referendum on Article 41.2, Minister of State Stanton and I are considering the Report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, published on 6 December 2018, on pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme of the 38th Amendment of the Constitution (Role of Women) Bill, with a view to making proposals to Government in due course.